Published December 11, 2018
Jennifer A. Martin, a Native American doctoral student in the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology, has received a prestigious Blueprint Diversity Specialized Predoctoral to Postdoctoral Advancement in Neuroscience Award from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Martin studies the role glial cells in the brain play in opiate addiction and relapse as a researcher in the laboratory of David Dietz, PhD, associate professor and chair of pharmacology and toxicology.
Dietz says that the accomplishment is even more impressive because this type of research was new to Martin when she started in the lab.
“She had to train herself to do nearly everything. She didn’t know what a glial cell was,” Dietz says. “Students like Jennifer have the motivation to be excellent. It is our job to guide them toward that excellence.”
“Working with Dr. Dietz has provided me with innumerable opportunities to help advance my career as an academic scientist and the skills and knowledge to answer complex questions from a cellular to behavioral level,” Martin says. “UB and the Dietz lab have been instrumental in helping me to become a successful student and scientist.”
The current research Martin is involved in is a joint project between Dietz and Fraser J. Sim, PhD, associate professor of pharmacology and toxicology.
“It was Jennifer who put that together. She is the link,” Dietz says of the collaborative effort.
Martin expects to complete her doctorate in 2019.
“Jennifer will be the first identified Native American student graduating with a doctoral degree from the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology,” says Margarita L. Dubocovich, PhD, SUNY Distinguished Professor of pharmacology and toxicology and senior associate dean for diversity and inclusion. “On her way to becoming an expert and leader in drug addiction research, she will continue making all of her mentors proud.”
“For me, this is a very exciting time to be studying addiction as the field is still relatively new, so being part of a generation that is setting the groundwork in the field is thrilling,” Martin says.
In addition to opportunities to present her research at conferences, she has participated in two summer internships: The Summer Program in Neuroscience, Excellence and Success at the Marine Biological Laboratory and the Graduate Summer Opportunity to Advance Research Program at the NIH. She has also participated in collaborations both inside and outside of UB, resulting in several high-impact publications and the opportunity to develop a strong neuroscience network.
The Blueprint Diversity Specialized Predoctoral to Postdoctoral Advancement in Neuroscience (D-SPAN) Award supports a defined pathway across career stages for outstanding graduate students from diverse backgrounds underrepresented in neuroscience research. The D-SPAN award also provides development opportunities relevant to the students’ long-term career goals of becoming independent neuroscience researchers.
The award facilitates completion of the doctoral dissertation and helps talented graduate students transition to strong neuroscience research postdoctoral positions. Individuals may receive up to six years combined support for both phases, which includes up to two years in the fellowship phase and up to four years in a career development phase.
“These are not common grants to receive. They’re very competitive,” Dietz says. “This sets her on the path to becoming a rising star in the field. When you get a grant like this it’s a major investment in someone. This is many years of commitment across many levels of your career. They (NIH officials) really think this is going to be a special person.”
Under the guidance of Dubocovich, Martin was funded by a National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) R25 grant at the beginning of her graduate studies and is still a Collaborative Learning and Integrated Mentoring in the Biosciences and Initiative for Maximizing Student Development (IMSD) scholar.
“I have been fortunate enough to have a very supportive family as well as friends and colleagues who have helped me through every challenge in my journey to my PhD,” Martin says. “Here at UB, I can turn to the Women in STEM network and faculty within the department for support and advice. It is this mentorship that motivates me in the face of setbacks and challenges, because I want to serve as a role model for the next generation of scientists.”
“Jennifer’s passion for science and academic excellence coupled with her seamless transition from the IMSD Award to diversity supplement funding to the D-SPAN Award represents a model pathway to achieve scientific and academic independence,” Dubocovich says. “Jennifer’s trajectory is a perfect model expected to be followed by all talented predoctoral students funded by the IMSD Award.”
“Jennifer has raised the bar as far as I’m concerned for graduate students,” says Dietz. “I’ve never been so impressed with one student’s capabilities.”
Martin earned a bachelor of science degree in chemistry from St. John Fisher College. She gained additional research experience at the University of Rochester through a summer internship program.